‘Ambassadors of peace’: Amputee football association brings together Sierra Leone’s civil war survivors
After coming across a refugee camp filled with hundreds of amputees, Samai felt compelled to help. “At that time, there were no activities like trauma recovery for them. So, amputees believed that once they lost their limbs and their legs, they have no future, they have no opportunity. So, I volunteered myself to give them confidence,” he said.
While at the refugee camp, he met an American missionary who introduced him to a form of adaptive football. After showing the amputees how to play, the response was overwhelming and SLASA was formed, “to give hope to the amputees, to give confidence to the amputees, and to allow them to become ambassadors of peace,” Samai said.
“Most of them are now very proud that they can represent their country at international competitions,” Samai said. “They are contributing something back to society.”
Samai says the sport is not only a good form of exercise, but it unites players and serves as a “therapy” for war victims to face their shared trauma. “We try to give them hope and then give them the credibility that they are useful, they are important to society,” he said.
Ali Badara Kamara is a goalkeeper in the SLASA league. He says he’s grateful for the life-changing opportunities he’s received. “My mother was afraid (for) me to play football because she sees me as an amputee. She thought that if I fell on the floor, I would have another problem,” he says. “But SLASA (has) taken me to Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania.”
Helping beyond the pitch
While football matches only last 90 minutes, Samai’s latest mission is to find a way to help amputees beyond the pitch.
“My passion (is) to make sure that every life, irrespective of your disability or irrespective of your background, that you are able to be happy and you are able to smile at the end of the day,” Samai said.
In 2018, Samai traveled to Japan to study sustainable agriculture leadership and community development. Upon his return, he began offering classes on sustainable agriculture through SLASA.
SLASA also assesses members’ education and provides learning resources to those in need. Its goal is to get more amputees off the streets and provide them with a safe way to make a living for themselves and their families.
To date, Samai says SLASA has directly assisted 350 amputees, and hopes to grow that number. The ultimate goal is to build a regulation pitch and rehabilitation center of its own.
“We want Sierra Leone to compete with another countries in terms of development,” Samai said. “We believe that disabled people should not be left behind.”